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Duncan, John, 1913-1975



  • Existence: November 25, 1913 - 1975


Dr. John Duncan, a nationally known African American musician, music educator, composer and academic administrator, was a native of Lee County, Alabama, where he was born November 25, 1913. Educated in the public schools of Pennsylvania, Duncan earned both bachelor and master of music degrees from Temple University, and he did further study at New York University. In 1974, during its Centennial year celebration, the composer was the recipient of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Alabama State University, where he had been employed since 1939. During his employment at ASU, Duncan served as its registrar for 13 years, as head of the music department and as bandmaster. Prior to coming to the university, he taught music at Samuel Houston College in Austin, Texas, and worked as a free-lance dance orchestra arranger in Philadelphia. Duncan specialized in theory, composition, orchestration and woodwind instruments, and had his compositions performed in many states and at some of the leading colleges and universities throughout the nation. Duncan’s compositions include: 12 orchestral works; two stage works (two ballets); five works for band; four choral works; 13 works for ensemble; seven for voice and piano; one for piano; and he has done the arrangements and settings in various media for more than 17 works. Besides being a book reviewer, writer and lecturer, Duncan, from 1953 to 1956, conducted a Sunday noon series of radio broadcasts over one of Montgomery’s local radio stations entitled “Sunday Symphonette.” Among his most notable works are: “Three Proclamations for Trombone and String Quartet,” performed at the Fourth Annual Symposium of Contemporary music for Brass at Georgia State College; “An Easter Canticle,” performed by a chorus, soloists, fifteen wind instruments and selected members of the Salt Lake City Choir; “Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra,” performed by the New York City Symphony Orchestra; “Three Obscurants for Tenor, Oboe and String Quartet,” performed at the University of Alabama; “Divertimento for Trombone and String Quartet,” performed in Town Hall, N.Y.; “Six Chamber Songs for Voice, Flute and String Quartet,” performed at Bennington College; “‘Atavistic’ String Quartet,” performed by the Claremont Quartet in Salem, Wisconsin; and “Gideon and Eliza,” his most recent opera in two acts, performed by Xavier University Opera Theatre. Duncan had published numerous articles on Negro music, including “Negro Composers of Opera” (Negro History Bulletin, January 1966), which proved to be a unique contribution to music history. Two of the books he is mentioned in are Black Music in Our Culture and The Music of Black Americans. Duncan was affiliated with the following professional organizations: American Musicological Society, Southeastern Composers’ League, American Music Center (Composer Member), College Music Society, Music Library Association, National Education Association (Life Member), Society of Black Composers and the Advisory Committee of the Black Music Center at Indiana University. He also held membership in Phi Delta Kappa Education Fraternity and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. At the time of his death in 1975, Duncan was serving as a member of the Alabama Bicentennial arts-music committee. He was successful in getting the birthplace of the late Nat “King” Cole designated as a landmark in Montgomery.

[Derived from the Obituary of John Duncan in The Birmingham Times (box 1, folder1)]

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

John Duncan Collection

Identifier: MS-0182
Scope and Contents The John Duncan Collection was gifted to the LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC Miller Nichols Library, by Stephen and Lanette Shepherd in August 2010. Contained in the collection are many of Duncan’s scores, in both complete and incomplete form, as well as sketches, arrangements and scores from other composers, such as Samuel Coleridge Taylor, William Grant Still, Clarence Cameron White, and others. Duncan’s compositions span all genres, with chamber, vocal, choral and large ensemble pieces...
Dates: 1932 - 1979